"World on fire" argues that globalization has made matters worse, not better, in most Third World nations. The spread of laissez faire capitalism has made "market-dominant minorities" even more powerful than before. The introduction of democracy has given the dispossessed "indigenous majorities" a chance to attack the market-dominant minorities. More capitalism and more democracy, introduced simultaneously, therefore mean more instability and ethnic strife.
True, as far as it goes. But what does it all mean? And what should be done about it? It eventually turns out that the author, so seemingly critical of globalization, actually supports it. Her real problem turns out to be...democracy.
Amy Chua denies (!) that the conflicts between "maket-dominant minorities" and "indigenous majorities" are about class. She thinks it's a matter of ethnicity. I don't deny that classes are often ethnically based. But just as often, they are *not* ethnically based. Still, they are classes. From this, I draw the conclusion that "class" or "socio-economic status group" is a more fundamental phenomenon than ethnicity. The author believes the opposite, which simply isn't convincing.
But even as an analysis of ethnic strife, the book oversimplifies. Many of the market-dominant minorities mentioned in the book existed long before globalization. The Whites have long been "market dominant" in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi were dominant even before the advent of European colonialists. Strictly speaking, the Tutsis aren't a *market* dominant minority, but a landed aristocracy. The author points out somewhere that most shops in Rwanda's capital Kigali were owned by East Indians. Nor were the Tutsis actually in power in 1994, when the Rwandan genocide took place. It's also difficult to see in what way the Tutsis have been benefited by globalization. Further, in what sense were the Croats a market-dominant minority in Yugoslavia? The Croats didn't control the Serbian economy. Indeed, the federal army and apparatus were probably dominated by Serbs! Nor do Israelis control the economies of the Arab states.
In Latin America, Chua herself admits that the conflicts were, for an extended period, couched in terms of class rather than ethnicity. However, she never draws the obvious conclusion: that's because the conflicts, at bottom, *are* about class. Nor does she reflect very deeply on the severe class conflicts in the Western world. They obviously weren't about ethnicity, since the haves and the have-nots usually belonged to the same "nation" or "race". The French revolution was as French as the ancien regime, and the Paris Commune was as French as Galliffet. The Russian revolution was more complex, but most people on both sides were Russians. The Spanish Civil War was mostly a straightforward conflict between left-wingers and fascists. And so on! Chua never presents a unified theory about what on earth is going on, but she constantly veers towards the opinion that the bottom line is ethnical. Ethnically homogenous nations supposedly make the transition to stable markets, democracy and prosperity better than ethnically heterogenous ones. But this is empirically disproven by many examples. Bangladesh is ethnically and religiously homogenous but still Hell on earth. Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, Canada and Spain are ethnically heterogenous but stable, democratic and prosperous. (Somebody might respond that these nations aren't "racially" heterogenous. But that is irrelevant, since White peoples have always fought and killed each other, for instance during the world wars or the Balkan wars. Besides, what about the United States, a predominantly White nation with a large Hispanic population that elected a Black African president? But this is a sidepoint, since the author doesn't define ethnicity in terms of "race".)
Other parts of her analysis are equally problematic. For instance, she suggests that the United States is somehow "spreading democracy" around the globe. I disagree. In many nations, the US doesn't promote democracy (Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states) or supports sham democracy (how likely is it that Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, got 90% of the popular vote in Rwanda, a predominantly Hutu nation?). Chua also constantly complains about "crony" capitalism, as if that was some kind of aberration. Outside the dreams of libertarians, *all* large scale capitalism is by necessity crony-ridden. Finally, Chua seems to dislike the Western European welfare states, while grudgingly admitting that they have overcome class strife in the Western world.
At bottom, the author supports globalization, while suggesting that immediate democracy might not be such a good idea, since it gives the "indigenous majorities" a possibility to destabilize the situation. Instead, she hopes that the fraternal associations of the market-dominant minorities realize that, for their own good, they should play it more fairly.
Since the market-dominant minorities are often targeted by ethnic and class violence, why haven't they come up with this themselves, after all these years? I mean, market-dominant minorities aren't stupid! It's not a co-incidence that they bribe off the corrupted indigenous leadership, while turning the indigenous majority into sweat shop labour, slaves or serfs. That, I think, is the whole point of the operation. And since class society has been working pretty well (more or less) for the past 10,000 years or so, it does have a certain "rationality" as well. As Chua points out when discussing Indonesia: the Chinese tycoons and their families easily avoided the anti-Chinese riots by simply absconding to Singapore, with most of their money, letting the Chinese middle class take the brunt of the attacks. Precisely. So why should they mend their ways, unless forced to, perhaps by a democratically elected "indigenous" government?
When all is said and done, this book, so seemingly critical of globalization and the greed of the dominant groups turns out to be another pro-establishment front for the same processes. The only solution the author can come up with is a more benign, Rotary-humanitarian form of globalization, coupled with a more limited (!) democracy.
As if that could stop the fire...